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Web design

Hi,
I have a job as a programmer, and it mostly involves web programming. All my friends and relatives think I'v a web page designer, possibly because I'm a woman and women aren't usually web programmers.
This kind of bothers me because you can learn enough to be a web page designer in weeks, but that is not true of programming (it took I am not trying to put down anyone who designs web pages because of course they need certain kinds of talent and skill. But it bothers me when a friend says she learned to make web pages in 2 weeks and is really proud that she can do the same thing I get paid a lot to do.
I also have to hear all about how my 15 year old niece is great at making web pages (with the implication that she easily learned what took me years of concentrated effort.
Should I stop trying to correct their wrong ideas? Do male web programmers also have this problem?

Little Lady
Thursday, January 02, 2003

Oh I see I made a lot of typos. I'm at work and typing too fast.

Little Lady
Thursday, January 02, 2003

Just call it "multi-tiers application development"

Robert Chevallier
Thursday, January 02, 2003

Male programmers have this problem as well... 

I'm a web programmer as well and, after roughly describing what I do, I often have to correct people on their assumptions ("oh, you designed this...").

I find it's always been difficult to describe my job to non-technical people beyond the basics "I'm a computer programmer".

A website (or a software GUI) is a tangable thing, but the underlying code is intangable the average person.  You can never inspire the awe your deserve because nobody has any idea.

It's really kinda depressing...  ;)

Wayne Venables
Thursday, January 02, 2003

From http://www.rinkworks.com/stupid/cs_programming.shtml

One thing that many will run into in the computer industry, is employers who are rather clueless and yet don't necessarily realize this. In 1996, a friend told me about a boss he had that needed a C program written for him. After a week, the boss complained that the program wasn't done, and he asked my friend what was taking so long.

* Friend: "The program is written, and I'm debugging it."
* Boss: "What's wrong with you people? You make programming more difficult than it needs to be. I have Frontpage Express to write web pages with, and when I write code with it, I never need to debug it. If you were as good of a programmer as me, you'd never need to debug either."

w.h.
Thursday, January 02, 2003

I have a similar problem - people rarely understand the level of work behind a website, beyond the 'design'. I tell people I am a Web Application Developer which is more accurate than Web Developer anyway. Something else people often struggle to accept is the fact that I have a seperate designer who makes graphics, layouts etc. They don't understand why I can't do them myself, thinking that's what I do all the time.

James Ussher-Smith
Thursday, January 02, 2003

[You can never inspire the awe your deserve because nobody has any idea.]

I'm glad I asked the question. I always assumed it was because I'm female.
Recently I mentioned a web site I had worked on to a friend in email. She wrote back saying the web site was absolutely brilliant, so much better than the home page she had made for herself. She went on to say that my job must be fascinating. I wrote back and explained that the web site I worked on was designed by a graphic artist, not by me. I told her my job is really "just computer programming, but it's interesting to me." I explained that everything I do is behind the scenes and I can't show it off to anyone. I hoped she would write back and acknowledge that the behind-the-scenes work is probably difficult and fascinating also, but she just didn't get my point at all. I thought of writing back and explaining it again, but it's hopeless.
Another friend who is a teacher is responsible for making her department's web page. She called and told me it had only taken her 2 weeks to learn to use the program. I looked at her web site and told her I thought it looked great. I know she was thinking she had learned my whole job in only 2 weeks. Next time I see her I want to say something to make her understand that she did not learn in 2 weeks what I an still learning after 8 years. But how can I explain it?

Little Lady
Thursday, January 02, 2003

Stop telling people you're a "web programmer".  Just tell them you're a programmer.  If they want more details hit them with industry acronyms and terms until their eyes glaze over.  They still won't know what it is you do, but they will sure be impressed with whatever the heck it is.

-Thomas

T.W.
Thursday, January 02, 2003

I agree with Thomas. Tell them you use PHP, or ASP, or whatever you use. Talk to them about XML, OOP, SQL and other 'buzzwords' like that and they will quickly decide that it's not quite as easy as they first thought. Don't mention HTML, Dreamweaver or anything like that though ;)

James Ussher-Smith
Thursday, January 02, 2003

I don't work on web programming, but one thing you can do is work on an opensource programming tool that has nothing to do with the web... failing that, you can always say what you /do/.  For example, if the website is some internal communications tool, you can explain that you're some sort of corporate information architect or perhaps you work on information (internet?) automation tools.

When people want a concrete idea of what you do, you could tell them that you work with a variety of formats... in fact, one they probably know about is html -- and deign to explain one thing you've done with this "increasingly popular format."  They'll be proud that they've heard of html, and yet don't think they understand the scope of your work.

I don't like this need to obfuscate for professional pride, but on the other hand it's a fact that people like to get ego boosts off others...

Tj
Thursday, January 02, 2003

Or you can just say that you do PHP. 

Which is nearly as fun as musician friends and I talking about using Acid and Buzz.

w.h.
Thursday, January 02, 2003

[it's a fact that people like to get ego boosts off others...]

I try very hard not to worry too much about my ego. But I get tired of people saying "Oh, my 12-year-old daughter makes web pages. If you need help you can call her."

Little Lady
Thursday, January 02, 2003

"I am a web developer not a web designer" is just one of many problems that all programmers encounter.

Below, are two more problems that many programmers encounter:

* Once you tell someone you are computer programmer they assume you know everything about computers.  That is, one person will assume you are also an expert at fixing them, while another person will assume you know all about networking. Typically, the thing that happens next is they start asking you a bunch of questions or they ask you to help them with a problem they are having.

* Some managers assume that just because you know a certain programming language or you have very good desktop development skills that you must also be an expert in all development platforms (i.e. web development, client/server development, database programming, wireless development, etc.) and you can effortlessly write custom code for every software product currently on the market (Outlook, Visio, etc.).

one programmer's opinion
Thursday, January 02, 2003

Little Lady,

Be assured it has nothing to do with your gender. I think we all get this. Particularly when talking to someone computer illiterate whose child, no matter 8 or 45, uses computers in some capacity that they themselves don't understand.

I can say "I design compters, VLSI chips and write device drivers" and they say "My grandson does that exact same thing too and he is very well paid for it. His company sends him all around the world to do it because he understands things that only three people in the world understand." Then I meet him and he has a high school diploma and swaps out network cards on coprorate internets while running push-button diagnostic software that his employer provided him with.

Ed the Millwright
Thursday, January 02, 2003

We have zero femal programmers and over half our design group is female.

The worst thing about stereoptypes is that they are generally true.

pb
Thursday, January 02, 2003

"She wrote back saying the web site was absolutely brilliant, so much better than the home page she had made for herself. She went on to say that my job must be fascinating."

This is excellant -- your friend understands and respects your work.

"I wrote back and ... explained that everything I do is behind the scenes and I can't show it off to anyone. I hoped she would write back and acknowledge that the behind-the-scenes work is probably difficult and fascinating also"

Hm... let me cast this story into a parallel situation and see what you think:

"I am a rocket scientist. I wrote to my friend and sent him a newspaper article about a new rocket engine I had designed. He wrote back saying the rocket engine was absolutely brilliant, so much better than the model rocket he had made for his son. He went on to say that my job must be fascinating. I wrote back and explained that the mathematical details of rocket science are far more complex than the story let on and certainly were far more complex than assembling a model rocket for a small child. I hoped he would write back and acknowledge that the thermodynamics and chaos theory is probably difficult and fascinating also but he didn't. I am thinking I should write him again and explain advanced thermodynamics to him so that he understands that what I do is not something that can be learned in 2 weeks."

Might I ask what your reaction would be if you were the friend upon getting this second letter?

X. J. Scott
Thursday, January 02, 2003

They become sterotypes in the first place because they are based on true statistics.
Almost all the programmers I know are male, and all the programming books I've read are by men (except for one on HTML for beginners).
A small number defy the stereotypes and we should not be surprised when people can't figure us out.
I have noticed that every single woman I know has a stereotypical female job (teacher, nurse, etc.).
One reason I'm proud of my job is that it is not a traditional woman's job. So it's discouraging that everyone thinks it is.

Little Lady
Thursday, January 02, 2003

[This is excellant -- your friend understands and respects your work.]

No! Not at all! She was talking about the graphics only. It was a mostly static HTML site where I had done a little database programming. I'm sure she had no idea that part of the site involved a database. I'm sure she doesn't know what a database is. She meant the graphics were brilliant, showing that she thinks I'm a page designer.

Little Lady
Thursday, January 02, 2003

"it is not a traditional woman's job"

You have reason to be proud, but for the opposite from this statement, which is mistaken.

Lady Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer in history and one of the most dedicated.

Then there was Admiral Grace Hopper and all the other early computer programmers -- the overwhelming majority of whom were women.

X. J. Scott
Thursday, January 02, 2003

Most programmers now are men, especially the great ones.
In the early stages more women were involved, before it became a desired profession.
There were women in the early days of aviation also. But as soon as something becomes desirable or high status, it becomes predominately male. When a profession's status lowers it becomes mostly female (secretaries, grade school teachers, for example).
You have to acknowledge that almost all the computer books are written by men, and that the well-known programmers are men, and software companies are most often started and owned by men.

Little Lady
Thursday, January 02, 2003

This is what the third or fourth time we've been through this thread. All variations of the same story. All from the same poster. Is there some point?

X. J. Scott
Thursday, January 02, 2003

Your friend writes "static" web pages. You write "dynamic" web pages.

You can do the following, which your friend can't:

- Shopping cart
- BBS
- Search engine
- Web mail
- Web base games
    
And many more.  You might not have done any of the above but as a programmer, you can.

Amour Tan
Thursday, January 02, 2003

Not sure those are good examples -- except for the games, those are all functions that just about anyone can add to their web site at little or no cost and do not require any programming skills whatsoever. It was different five years ago but those particular functions are not even commodity items anymore, they are freebies that are expected to come with basic site hosting. They are supported by a robust array of tools that allow anyone's grandmother to set them up with no prior experience simply by following the prompts.

X. J. Scott
Friday, January 03, 2003

Grandmother is kind of tech savvy.  Next time if I have a problem setting up my online store, I will give her a call.

Amour Tan
Friday, January 03, 2003

A web programmer can do any kind of programming. I don't need to recite a list of things I can do to prove something to friends and relatives.
More programmers are men, and this is true of many jobs. On the other hand there are jobs that are filled mainly by women. It sometimes baffles me because it many cases it has nothing to do with physical size or strength. What is it about computers that makes women not want to know all about them? From the first time I used a computer I wanted to know how they work. Women can appreciate their usefulness but, in general, have no curiousity about what is inside.
It's similar with cars. Women can appreciate them from the outside but, in general, only men care about the mechanics underneath.
I never understood that! I like to know how things work. Maybe that's because I'm not very feminine.
How many of you have wives or girlfriends who really want to understand how computers, and other machines, work? They're too busy concentrating on other things (and the main thing they concentrate on is men, in case you want to know).
This is just how the world is. Men and women are on different wavelengths. I am not angry about it, just baffled sometimes.
Being mistaken for a page designer rather than a progammer isn't so terrible. I'm not going to say "well I can make a shopping cart, and you can't." It's true I can make a shopping cart, but I can also make things that have not been made before, or things for a specific purpose in a specific type of business. When you know how computers work and how to program them, there are not limits.

Little Lady
Friday, January 03, 2003

When I run into a person that incorrectly interprets my line of work, I use examples like, "I write programs that people access using the web, similar to how you access your word processor using Windows."  Or, "Have you used Amazon.com?  That kind of interactive site is the kind of stuff I build.  I don't do the pretty pictures or the book descriptions.  I design and build the part that makes it interactive, stores credit cards, allows you to rate and review books, gives book recommendations tailored to the kind of stuff you've bought in the past, and so on."

I try to use examples that make them think about the difference between static content and an interactive system.  It's not black-and-white - there's a continuum between the two.  But if you think about it, you should be able to come up with examples that clearly demonstrate the difference in a way that makes sense to them.

Another line of reasoning that may overwhelm some people is "I build the 'spreadsheets' and 'word processors' of the web.  Other people fill in the 'spreadsheet' or the 'document' with information that's meaningful to them.  I just make it behave like they expect it to."

ODN
Friday, January 03, 2003

On the subject of how being female relates to people's misunderstanding on the kind of work you do, I don't think there's a direct correlation.  But I think males tend to act more pretentious about their jobs, which could tend to make the clueless people read more into what you say: "I could've sworn that's what my 12-year-old says he does... but this guy acts like it's pretty fancy... maybe I'm missing something... maybe he IS better than my 12-year-old."  The overblown male ego helps to throw off their preconceived ideas.

On the subject of females and their general disinterest in computers, I believe it's a matter of how you're raised.  I think more men than women have the "I'm going to figure this out even if it kills me" attitude.  Men seem to generally have more patience when solving problems of indeterminate length.  It seems like women are more likely to say "This is ridiculous.  Who knows when or if I'll ever figure it out.  I don't have the time for this."  I think of this kind of practicality as the "mother" instinct.  Men have traditionally had more luxury to indulge in open-ended time sinks in the name of work, even if it's to their own detriment.  Women haven't had that luxury as much, and often wouldn't choose it anyway because they see the lifestyle it requires as impractical and detrimental to things like family, friends, etc.

ODN
Friday, January 03, 2003

I have the luxury because I don't have kids (didn't want to). I guess that's what makes the difference. I can follow my curiosity, which is great. Men are lucky.

Little Lady
Friday, January 03, 2003

I like the examples ODN gave.

I think the kids issue came up time before last we had this talk. It's still true that just as many men have kids as women do. I suppose cloning will change that but it's mostly true right now.

I don't think having kids or not having them has much impact on whether one interested in knowing how things work.

In college, I knew four people other than myself who were really interested in how things really worked. Three were in my department - one was a woman. The fourth was an artist I knew. Most students were not interested beyond a superficial level. I don't think it has much if anything to do with gender.

X. J. Scott
Friday, January 03, 2003

Ugh, don't get me started on the dynamic vs. static web design thing.  Before I made a break from the web market because I just knew that the crash was going to happen, I built a nice dynamic site.  Post me getting out of the web biz, some changes were needed, more than just db changes.  More than one promising web designer ran in terror when they realized that there was *gasp* CODE in a website.

The best one was the group that hated to deal with me because I tore apart their design AND required me to step in and save their project because they spent hours and hours on the perfect design and realized that it wasn't quite so easy to shoehorn the new design into the old site.

w.h.
Friday, January 03, 2003

Just cut to the chase, tell them you do the clever stuff.

John Ridout
Friday, January 03, 2003

Lately, I just tell people that I'm a programmer and then move on to my latest mannic extracirricular project.

w.h.
Friday, January 03, 2003

I took math at University level.  12-year-old daughter also learn math but I don't think she will be able to coach me if I have homework problem.

Amour Tan
Friday, January 03, 2003

I'm reminded of a scene from the book, "American Psycho".  The main character is in a very crowded and loud nightclub.  He's trying to have a conversation with a woman.  She asks him, "What do you do?".  He replies, "I'm into murders and executions".  She nods her head and says, "Yeah, I have friends in mergers and acquisitions".

J. D. Trollinger
Saturday, January 04, 2003

Little lady,
I know it is reasonable to want to feel that your work has merit and that other people see and recognise it. I just don't think that it is really possible in our industry - the only people who can appreciate your work and the effort you put into it are people who do your kind of work.

The layman cannot see it and the effort you put into educating them to understand the intracies of your work just won't pay off. I feel the same as yourself - when I do good work I like people to see it. I also like to be able to describe what I spend 40+ hours a week doing to people who ask. Lawyers, Doctors, Construction Engineers & Teachers have it easy. People can *see* what they do.

I satisfy my need to have my work appreciated and understood, by working with people like me. I am lucky though in that respect, given the economy. I also tend to work with very visible applications, so I can show people what it does. I have to reserve my energy in educating the heathen for talking wiht my superiours ... sigh.

I just deflect all of the other questions from people who want to understand my work, its better for my stress levels ...

Richard
Monday, January 06, 2003

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